Edu-Wednesday: Spanglish: Identity Preservation or Language Destruction?

Guest Post by Silvina Jover-Cirillo (@atgtranslations)

A couple of weeks ago all us Latinos and Hispanos in the U.S. were reminded, once again, the destruction, deformation and negative evolution that one of the most beautiful languages in the world is being faced with: Our own. The Miami Herald’s article Scholars fighting to squelch Spanglish brought the conversation to the social media environment, and now continues through this article.

In order to understand and acknowledge that, in fact, there is a problem, we should get to the root of the matter. According to the American Community Survey performed by the Pew Hispanic Center in 2009, more than 40% of Hispanics in the U.S. speak English less than well at home. If we take this number into account, as well as the fact that the U.S. is an immigrant melting pot in general, and a conglomeration of Spanish dialects in particular, we will undoubtedly face an interesting social situation in which a cultural identity factor might come into play.

In light of these facts, we should ask ourselves the following questions to fully understand what Spanglish is and what is not, and whether it is good or bad (if any): When are we just being bilingual and using our English and Spanish language skills interchangeably? When are we simply speaking or talking in an incorrect way? And, finally, when are we using Spanglish as a mean of communication?

The first question refers to the “ability on the part of bilinguals to alternate effortlessly between their two languages,” which is called code-switching, as defined by Bullock & Toribio. For example, this is what we do when we start a sentence in English and finish it in Spanish; and each independent language expression might not necessarily be grammatically incorrect. Other cases refer to the linguistic accuracy of written or spoken English and Spanish, which can be illustrated through sentences such as the one introduced by the Herald’s article: “Aquí se venden muebles para niños de madera.” This is just plain wrong; there is nothing “Spanglish” about it but it simply reflects the speaker’s poor knowledge of the Spanish language. Finally, once again using the Herald’s example, the sentence “Quiero introducir [introduce] a Enrique Iglesias!” shows that the use of the Spanish language can go very wrong.

This particular case, besides its incorrect Spanish punctuation, shows a linguistic situation commonly observed among bilingual speakers, which uses what is known as a false cognate or false friend, usually defined as “words that share form, but not meaning.” What I like to call hard-core Spanglish entails taking the code-switching situation to a level that some may affirm that creates a new constructed auxiliary language, comparable to the case of Esperanto (a story better left for some other time). Just for fun, you can find a mini-glossary of some Spanglish words here.

So, how can we differentiate between Spanglish and the incorrect use of either the English or Spanish language? Although in practice, all the elements described fall under the Spanglish umbrella, if we could train ourselves to remember these subtle idiosyncrasies every time we speak, we will be contributing our two cents to stop the deterioration of both our languages. Once you have read that mini-glossary and smile about those words (because you know you are guilty of using them), don’t forget to eradicate them from your mind!

In either case, we must remember that language is not only a method of communication, but also an element that represents our cultural identity. If it is precisely our cultural inheritance the component that we intend to protect by teaching our language to our children, why [intentionally] destroy the shared core of our cultures?

ABOUT THE AUTHOR:

Silvina is the founder and owner of Around The Globe Translations. She has a B.A. in Political Science and International Relations studies, and an M.A. in Global Affairs with concentration in Global Studies. Professional background: working with international companies focused in export and import matters. Currently, she offers her expertise on interpretation and translation via her company.

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15 Comments
  1. cfpereda@gmail.com'
    onewayoranother 8 years ago

    Here’s our take at EL PAIS blog, USA Español, dedicated to the Hispanic community in the United States http://blogs.elpais.com/usa-espanol/2010/07/spanglish-es-cosa-de-bilingues.html

  2. jesse.luna@gmail.com'
    jesseluna 8 years ago

    I think Spanish and English are both beautiful languages. Part of their richness comes from the introduction of new words, especially those from other cultures and linguistic origins. What would English be if all German, Dutch, Spanish, and Yiddish words were to be excluded?

    What would Spanish be if there weren’t several ways to say “grass” or “beans” – which reflect regional indigenous languages like Nahuatl and Quechua? We wouldn’t have “zacate” or even “chocolate.”

    When I think of people speaking multiple languages, even if there is some overlap within a sentence, I think of beauty, cultural richness, internationalization, self-expression, and other positive things. I don’t think “destruction” and “deformation.” Where does that even come from?

    That said, I do think there is a place for formal English and formal Spanish but it’s about knowing one’s audience.

  3. contact@chantillypatino.com'
    Chantilly Patiño 8 years ago

    I completely get where you’re going with this and I think you are right to some degree that it leaves an individual speaking both languages incorrectly, but I have to admit that I find this article somewhat offensive. My husband is from Laredo, TX and Spanglish…not Spanish and English combined…is a language there. They use words like “troque” for truck and “lonche” for lunch and those words have become part of their identity. It’s a clue to their mixed heritage and their intimate efforts to seamlessly combine both. In the same way that Creoles are of mixed heritage and combine French, Spanish and various African words, so too do Latinos in the south create their own dialect. Rather than pointing out that it’s not a “real” language, we should accept their diverse dialect as we would accept any other. I do agree that it may not be accepted by the scholarly community, but Creole really isn’t either and if you want to be accepted in that community you have to know their dialect…which you have to admit, is far different than any other. My point is, that we shouldn’t be so quick to judge a dialect on whether it’s “right” or “wrong”…it is theirs.

  4. contact@chantillypatino.com'
    Chantilly Patiño 8 years ago

    Jesse, you’re right on! There is a place for each language and dialect. Perhaps Spanglish is not the way to get ahead in scholarly or formal writing, but it is still a big part of who we are and shouldn’t be downed by the media if we use it in our day to day life.

  5. Deldelp Medina 8 years ago

    Since we don’t have a bilingual education system in this country, it should be no surprise that your language ability comes from your familial connection. Depending on your families education, love of language, and discipline your ability to successfully code switch goes up. Spanglish was created out of necessity that sometimes is the greatest mother to invention.

  6. gtchildoflir0@gmail.com'
    Gtchildoflir0 8 years ago

    Perhaps Spanglish could in fact turn into its own language one day. Sort of like Yiddish. Languages are a constant work in progress. Instead of being concerned about Spanglish I think both Spanish and English defenders should be more concerned with all the new technologies which are changing the way we are communicating. Like OMG my BFF cant text in a complete sentence!

  7. srcolesmith@gmail.com'
    Srcolesmith 8 years ago

    i do agree with Jesse on this .. and spanglish is best way abt doing it … u specialise in either in language of your choice … spanglish ppl are what the translation companies now-a-days looking for .. actually not spanglish…. but people who are able to both the languages at the same level

  8. Hello Chantilly,

    Thanks for your comment. The intention of this article wasn’t to offend anybody, so I apologize if you feel that way. I usually give my opinion or write about issues or topics I feel entitled I can due to personal experience or my educational background. In this case, a little bit of both.

    I understand the importance of Spanglish from a social point of view, such in your husband’s case. And this is not the only place that happens. It happens in some towns from my home country, Uruguay, where you cross the street (literally) and you are in Brazil; in this places many people speak Portuñol/Portunhol. In China you see Chinglish in the streets everywhere you go. Franglais is a common occurrence among speakers of French + English. And Konglish is a very popular one, too. This code-switching practice usually comes naturally to fluent speakers of 2 or more languages. The problem, as I personally see it, is when this natural activity crosses the line and begins to be applied in an incorrect manner (maybe, grammatically), or to daily settings in an inaccurate way (for example, to a banner in the middle of the street that uses incorrect grammar).

    I hope I was able to further explain myself here. Is great to hear your comments! Thanks.

  9. contact@chantillypatino.com'
    Chantilly Patiño 8 years ago

    I understand your opinion. I am in some agreement with you, but I can’t find it so easy to detach the people from the language/culture. It’s offensive to me, because those criticized for speaking “incorrectly” are mi familia. This post might explain better… http://bit.ly/fqmOS7 I don’t disagree that being fluent in Spanish and English (without error) is ideal, but it’s hard to hear so much in the media that leaves so many border town speakers feeling isolated and seen as “poor” speakers. I can appreciate your point, but it’s still disappointing to hear all the negative judgement from media.

  10. stevecap@dca.net'
    Steven Capsuto 8 years ago

    Funny you should mention Yiddish. As I was reading the article I kept thinking about Yinglish: that blend of Yiddish and English that, in my parents’ and grandparents’ generation, was understandable to Yiddish speakers who had lived for a time in the U.S. and Canada, but incomprehensible to English-only speakers and to Yiddish-speaking recent immigrants. It included works like “nextdoorkeh” (meaning “the woman who lives next door”) and the more widely known “nogoodnik.”

  11. svivar9087@gmail.com'
    svivar9087 8 years ago

    Shouldn’t the ability to communicate be the main focus, rather than how it’s delivered. I myself prefer an interesting mind rather than perfect hollow words, but that just me.

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  13. grace@globaltolocallanguagesolutions.com'
    Grace Bosworth 7 years ago

    This is a great article, a must-read for our interpreters!

    Grace Bosworth
    President, Global2Local Language Solutions
    http://www.globaltolocallanguagesolutions.com

  14. incassobureau@gmail.com'
    Incassobureau 7 years ago

    Great article about Spanglish!

    incassobureau 

  15. info@replicaslujo.com'
    Replica 6 years ago

    arriba el spanglish!!!!!!

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